Blockchain Can Help Safeguard Intellectual Property Rights

Many advances in society begin well before there is widespread awareness of their impact and benefits. Few people could foresee the multiple technological impact of automobiles, televisions, or the internet when they were in their rudimentary stages. A similar dynamic is currently unfolding with the development and spread of Blockchain. In previous posts, we have highlighted the potential of Blockchain to assist and protect governments, taxpayers, and consumers in an increasingly globalized society. Blockchain helps ensure that consumers are protected from fraudulent or counterfeit goods, usually from overseas vendors, but protection provided by Blockchain is not limited to just consumers. The emerging technology can also be used to protect vendors from having their intellectual property stolen or used without permission.

A number of websites allow individuals to register claims of ownership of pieces of music, art, writings, photographs, manuscripts, and other goods. These claims are time-stamped and the owners are issued a copyright certificate from the website, which is then placed on an immutable Blockchain. These websites then attempt to track the use of the claimed item on the internet for potential copyright infringements. For example, if a photo has been placed on Blockchain by a service like Blockai, it is monitored and the copyright owner is notified of the potential infringements. This is especially helpful for amatuer artists who might run into  copyright issues when a larger business uses their work.

It should be noted that these online services do not provide the legal copyright for an item, but only provide a resource to track the use of an item. A person claiming to own the copyright will only be able to take legal action if they have a legitimate copyright granted by the U.S. Copyright Office.

Obviously, Blockchain cannot solve all the problems within the copyright legal system, both locally and globally. Being able to detect potential copyright infringements is only the first part of the battle. The second part is being able to remove images or advisements that violate a copyright through legal action. This part will only be more effective by improving the patchwork of laws that govern copyright laws domestically and internationally. Nevertheless, Blockchain could help with the detection of copyright infringements, and provide a record of “traceable ownership” especially helpful for artists and writers that do not have the plentiful legal resources.

Additionally, Blockchain technology can be used to provide emerging and existing artists with the flexibility to independently release or license their art how they would like, to whom they would like, and for whatever cost they would like. Artists can release their work directly to consumers without having to go through a middleman and save time and earnings in the process. This is exactly what Grammy Award Winning Artist Imogen Heap, known for her song “Hide and Seek,” has done via Mycelia, a website that uses Blockchain technology to enact and enforce smart contracts for artists.

In a presentation with the Guardian Live, Heap provided her reasoning for creating Mycelia.

“[W]hat could be the simplest way to put a piece of music online, in one place, where I could pop it up there, and then all the other services could say, ‘okay, new Imogen Heap music, okay, we’ll take that,’ instead of me having to service it to Spotify, service it to iTunes, service it to YouTube, blah blah blah blah blah, read all the small print, all these different things, everyone’s got different ratios of things that they give you, or don’t give you.”

Heap continues to explain how after she realized how complex the music industry is she began to explore new way for releasing music, which is when she heard about Blockchain technologies. Heap explained, “... I realized there is actually a way that you can connect a file with its payment attached into a digital wallet.  And so when somebody listens to a track — the technology is very close to being there — it immediately recompenses me ... Instead of having to wait two years, sometimes, even more, for money to come back to me, it can be instant.”

As can be seen, Blockchain can help provide desperately needed flexibility to rigid industries, and allow artists to have more control and input on how how their art is used. Both websites and services like Blockai and Mycelia are examples of imperfect but improving applications of Blockchain technologies.

Protecting intellectual and artistic property rights from infringement is essential to not only a free market and lawful society, but also to a society that seeks to respect and credit the creators of both economic and aesthetic value. The idea of using Blockchain technologies to protect artists from both copyright abuse and overly burdensome and unfair industry practices appeals to many people in society. It especially appeals to people that want to uphold protections for intellectual property and want to empower artists with the liberty to make and use their art how they see fit. Blockchain has the potential to satisfy both of these desires, but only if it is allowed to ferment and grow without crippling regulations. Congress should pursue policies that allow Blockchain technology to thrive and challenge the status quo, and resist policies that aim to regulate or overtly control blockchain.

For more on Blockchain Technologies please see the following:

Blockchain: A Free Market Solution to Government Burden

Blockchain and Creative Destruction

Blockchain: Improving Transparency in Transactions